The New York Times reports that law school students are being forced to confront a new reality: sky-rocketing tuition and slim job prospects. This fall, students are competing for half as many job openings at big firms in comparison to last year. Therefore, they are seeking opportunities in smaller firms or in the government sector.
As top firms significantly reduce recruiting, students are beginning to question the value of a J.D. and the tremendous debt that comes with it. When Julia Figurelli, enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania two years ago, she was relying on a lucrative law firm job to pay off her $200,000 debt. Now she says, “Had I seen where the market was going, I would’ve gone to a lower-ranked but less expensive public school. I’m questioning whether law school was the right choice at all.” Figurelli is currently looking for jobs in lower-paying markets, such as Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Even the elite law schools are encouraging students to expand their job searches. As such, the Social Security Administration said that applications for lawyer positions and clerkships increased this year, to 2,000, from 800. Yet, NYU law school student, Derek Fanciullo, expresses a concern, “There is a humungous trickle-down effect. When the big firms don’t hire, everyone looks to government. And when those get filled up, then what happens?”
The crisis is forcing both schools and firms to reevaluate the current system. Some suggestions include: pushing back interview dates to the spring of the second year and reexamining the traditional “up or out” partner-track models. “The situation is so dramatic it has freed them up to make changes that they wouldn’t otherwise,” said James G. Leipold, the executive director of the Association for Legal Career Professionals. “We’re going through a period of a surprising amount of experimentation.”